Guide Answers Questions About Sex After Cancer Treatment

June 20, 2014
Janet Colwell
Janet Colwell

A new guide developed by nurses and patients with gynecologic cancer offers a much-needed practical resource for women struggling to understand the impact of cancer treatment on their sexual health.

A new guide developed by nurses and patients with gynecologic cancer offers a much-needed practical resource for women struggling to understand the impact of cancer treatment on their sexual health.

Everything Nobody Tells You About Cancer Treatment and Your Sex Life: Your A-Z Guide “was written as a resource for women to help them anticipate the sexual health changes their bodies may experience throughout cancer treatment and validate their experiences throughout survivorship,” wrote the authors of a study in the June 2014 issue of the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing that led to creation of the guide. Ovarian cancer and its treatment, they said, can lead to sexual and reproductive dysfunction, loss of self-esteem, depression, and disruption of supportive relationships.

For the study, researchers interviewed women being treated for ovarian cancer about their sexual health concerns and the support they were receiving from their health care providers. The A-Z Guide was compiled based on feedback from participants on the most important information for women to know and the best way to present it.

Patients reported that while most oncology offices provide some written information about sexual health, it tends to be academic in tone and lacking in practical advice. Many said they wished that they had been better informed about potential sexual health changes so that they could have been prepared to deal with them following treatment.

The women said they often refrained from bringing up sexual health concerns with their providers because they assumed their providers were too busy or they didn’t want to bother them. Other reasons for avoiding conversations included thinking they should just be “grateful to be alive”; believing that sexual health is a private matter; or assuming that if something could be done, their provider would initiate a discussion.

Health care providers can help alleviate the emotional suffering of these patients by anticipating and validating sexual health concerns as they arise during treatment, the authors said.

“The most effective communication addresses different types of unmet patient needs at each stage of illness,” the authors wrote. “Nurses should assess and manage sexual health concerns in the same manner in which they address pain, fatigue, or any other symptom.”

The guide contains an A through Z list of common concerns and discussions about how to address them. Sections include “dilators and devices,” “exhaustion and exercise,” “hot flashes,” and “initiating sex.” It is written in conversational, easy-to-understand language.

“Communicating with patients with cancer is a dichotomous situation in that the disease is life-threatening, while at the same time, potentially treatable or curable, causing uncertainty and stress for the patient,” the authors said. “Normalizing concerns and answering questions, along with using the A-Z Guide as an educational resource, helps empower women to maintain their sexual health.”